The recent flap surrounding the mushy thinking – no he did not simply misspeak – of Todd Akin brings into view yet again the Republican Party’s dilemma with its right wing. They cannot win elections without the energy and turnout of their radical right wing. But, to energize that radical core means pandering to it, and pandering to it means that the Todd Akin’s of the world may be seen by others as speaking for the party. In turn, moderates and swing voters trend away at election day.
For the sake of presenting the thesis, the radical right needs to be severed into secular radicals and the religious radicals. Of these, the religious radicals are most dangerous from the Republican perspective. Religious radicals move in and out of political activism historically. There is a biblical theme that true believers should not be “of this world” and that politics and governance is “of this world”, i.e. the realm of Satan.
Contravening the not-of-this-world crowd, there will arise from time to time a Jerry Falwellian leader preaching the necessity of political involvement for the moral betterment of the nation. We currently find ourselves with this philosophy dominant among the Christian radicals. Let us assume for the sake of proceeding that this group constitutes 10% of the voting population and votes predominantly Republican.
With voting splits at roughly 50-50, the presence or absence of 10% that consistently votes for a single party cannot be overlooked. It is estimated that true swing voters in this election constitute somewhere between 4 and 6% of voters. Even if that entire 4-6% came over to the Republicans as a result of jettisoning the religious right, it would not make up the shortfall created by losing the Christian radicals. In other words, the Republican Party can’t live without them. Republicans cannot risk having the not-of-this-world crowd retake a dominant position among the Christian radicals.
Unfortunately for the Republican Party, the converse is also true. They can’t live with the radical right. The pandering necessary to keep the radicals and to keep them energized alienates entire voting blocks, most importantly independents. Let’s return to the Akin situation. While Akin raises the specter of mindless misogyny as a basis for public policy, the Republican platform committee is busy writing a plank that panders to the religious radicals making all abortion illegal. While party leaders try to condemn Akin’s words, they adopt his policy in a curtsy to the religious right. The hypocrisy of condemning the rationale while adopting the policy is not lost on independents and swing voters.
Back in 2008 I predicted that the Republican Party risked becoming irrelevant as a result of demographic changes and set the timeframe to begin with the election cycle of 2020. When combined with the pandering to the radicals, it seems the Republicans may be eight years ahead of schedule in creating an irrelevancy out of a once-vibrant political movement. 2012 is an election year where the Republicans were perfectly positioned to a) take back the White House, b) reclaim a Senate majority and c) increase their majority in the House. They are on the verge of failing to accomplish any of these.
In pandering to the radical right, Republicans have not only lost the battle of long term demographics, they have accelerated their own defeat. Entire voting blocs are being lost en masse. Pandering to the radical anti-immigrationists has hemorrhaged votes in the growing Latino community. Pandering to the radical homophobes has exacerbated losses in the LGBT community. Policy choices seen as anti-woman have resulted in estimates of the gender gap being as high as 30% among young adult women
The radical right, without whom the Republicans are not competitive in the present day, are also the bane of the party’s continued relevance. The ship is alist and taking water. This should be a Republican sweep election. It will not be, and it will not be because of the unholy union between the Republican Party and the radical right. Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em.